Last year’s deadly Camp Fire, the worst in California’s modern history, was caused by power lines owned by Pacific Gas and Electric, or PG&E, local fire officials said Wednesday.
“After a very meticulous and thorough investigation, CAL FIRE has determined that the Camp Fire was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electricity,” Cal Fire said in a statement on Wednesday.
The agency noted that a confluence of factors caused terrible fire conditions, including “tinder dry vegetation” and strong winds that “promoted this fire and caused extreme rates of spread.”
Cal Fire also said that the PG&E lines caused separate ignitions at two different sites, but that one fire was consumed by the other to create a unified blaze.
PG&E said in February it was “probable” that its equipment caused the blaze, which killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and scorched more than 153,000 acres. In January, the company filed for bankruptcy protection after saying it faced up to $30 billion in liabilities from wildfires in California, in large part due to the scale of the Camp Fire.
The energy company said later Wednesday it had not yet reviewed Cal Fire’s report, but said PG&E was fully cooperating with officials during the investigation.
“Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, and we remain focused on supporting them through the recovery and rebuilding process,” PG&E said in a statement. “We also want to thank the brave first responders who worked tirelessly to save lives, contain the Camp Fire and protect citizens and communities.”
The fire effectively leveled most of the town of Paradise, California, where many of the deaths occurred, most among elderly communities. Thousands of residents say they’re still looking for permanent places to live after the blaze, and although there are a few hundred FEMA trailers and housing units in the area, they are not nearly enough to house all of the displaced.
“We don’t have enough housing, period, for the people relocated because of the Camp fire,” Chico City Councilwoman Ann Schwab told HuffPost in March. “We don’t have enough temporary housing, permanent housing. People are sleeping in their cars, in motorhomes. They are sharing bedrooms with friends and relatives.”
Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday the investigation took months to complete due to the nature of the fire and its complexity.
“A fire investigation is very, very methodical and it takes a lot of time,” Mohler told the outlet. “Our investigators don’t have an opportunity to be 80% right, we have to be 100% right, and it’s about getting closure for the fire survivors and victims.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called on state lawmakers last month to develop a plan to help utilities recover from and survive the costs of wildfires caused by their equipment. He also called for a plan to help the state determine how it can reduce the frequency and intensity of any future blazes.
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